An hour spent in the company of a good book is actually worth in gold. Books became a main attraction almost since my elementary days. Back then, I was moved to laughter-filled-tears reading comic books. The Indian cultural thoughts were imbibed through the Amar Chitra Katha comic books. These comics were hand-me-down of my brother’s collection. Hard cardboard bound books were best to flop over on the floor and lazily read during the afternoons. The introduction to easy reader and chapter books happened in slow progress. In my third standard I was exposed to the abridged version of William Shakespeare’s plays as retold by Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb.
By the time, I was in fifth standard; I was reading Famous Five and Secret Seven chapter books by Enid Blyton. As a product from a convent education, naturally my exposure to British Writers happens to be very strong. Almost all agreeable (as per government rule) British Writers’ works was showcased in the Anglo-Indian syllabus. I had begun spending all my waking time with books when I discovered the small library in school in my eighth class. It was like showing a thirsty person an oasis in a desert of confused curricular testing. I enjoyed being in the oasis nibbling dates and drinking cool coconut milk and living a life of a royalty.
No subject is prohibited – attitude towards reading expanded my mind but sadly I couldn’t express it. I read everything from profound to trash. Any book that made me think for myself, it would be such a wonderful thing, that I would want to read the book again and again. Almost around the same time my paternal uncle’s personal collection of book arrived at our house. Among them there was an unabridged translation of the Arabian Nights which became my flop over and read while the homework stood pending ‘kinda-book.’ I became eccentric loner in slow progress because the vibrant world of the letters made reality so lukewarm. I became friends with books and especially those books that spoke of strong characters who kept cheering themselves despite difficulties in their life.
Even today I still remember the slanting afternoon sun in the month of August as it filled the class room in my eleventh standard while I watched my teacher write the title of the poem by John Keats – ‘Ode to the Nightingale’ on the black board with a chalk piece. I was transported to the summer outdoor table and a chair set under a shady tree listening in with such great musing as the bird sang. I thought and believed that I heard what Keats had heard while recording each note into that poem. That one sweeping heartfelt moment carried me into the realization that I wanted to study English Literature. But I never thought that I wanted to create such literature. But it sufficed my need for belonging in the same realms created by these great poets, writers and storytellers as a mere reader.
After much struggle, I reached my college level and at last I was studying the subject that I have come to love so much – English Literature. In all the three years that I was there I would read all my course books ahead for the joy it gave me. Dissecting was not a pleasure but more a requirement. The pleasure of just reading merely for the pure joy – Nirmal Anand (in Hindi it means ‘unadulterated happiness’) – that was enough for me. My college friends shared the same passion for books, Lucky me! A joint library card opened up the Best Seller books from casual adult reading list. My BC (British Council Library) card and AC (American Council Library) card became the portal keys to countless books of both continents. But sadly my education in Literature was lacking right until I finished my MFAW (2012) in US.
I chose courses not based on prior knowledge of the professors but merely my instinct for what I wanted to explore. During the four semesters of MFA, I found my personal identity and understood my inner calling for reading books. Yet, as a writer I was just not the same person anymore. I read books by European writers, South Asian writers, North American writers, but sadly I didn’t get a chance to read Australian writers. But books in translation and stories in resonating second language was awe inspiring for me. The reader had found her spirit’s calling. There is still much that I wish to learn and understand. The internal journey within a writer’s mind has well and truly begun.